By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Rylea Smith of St. Louis got a huge compliment from Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson before the season started when Lawson said she could be the best leadoff hitter she’s ever had at Kentucky.
Considering the players Lawson has coached and the success UK has had under her, that’s big praise for a freshman before she played her first game. Of course, Smith got the winning RBI in her second collegiate game.
“Whenever I get compliments I take it with more of a grain of salt,” the freshman outfielder said. “I see it as I could have a bit more confidence in myself than I do. When I came into college I was worried. It is a whole different setting and you are playing against some of the best of the best.
“When you hear your coach say that you might be one of the best she’s ever had, it does give you a lot of confidence. Rather than putting pressure on you it takes pressure off me more than anything.”
Smith hit .526 her senior season with nine doubles, 11 triples, five homers,27 runs knocked in and 38 stolen bases in 39 tries. Her speed showed up on defense, too, where she had 96 putouts and turned three double plays. She hit above .500 all four years in high school, helped her team win a state title in 2018 and played for USA Softball.
So why was she worried coming into college?
“I just think a am a pretty worrisome person when it comes to softball overall. I am pretty confident in my hitting,” Smith said before the season started. “I am pretty confident overall but I always worry how I will do.
“It’s a type of preseason stress because you don’t know how the season will go and what you will need and how everything will turn out for you. Hearing your coach saying she has confidence in you doing well can also bring you confidence.”